Values of vintage guitars are dictated mainly by supply and demand


A bit of a quiz to start us out this month. Match the seven line items below with their relative percentage price increase since 1997 of 30, 100, 200, 250, 300, 600 and 1000% (answers listed at the end of the column):

1956 Gretsch 6120 _______ %
1973 Stratocaster (sunburst) _______ %
1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom _______ %
1997 U.S. Dollar (inflation) _______ %
1967 Rickenbacker 375 _______ %
1952 Telecaster _______ %
1973 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe _______ %


Although many conclusions may be deduced from the results of the quiz, here’s one: at the same time the U.S. Dollar was losing value (according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ inflation gauge) to the tune of about 30%, the vintage guitar market has rewarded the “usual suspects” handsomely while turning a dispassionate glance to other rare vintage electric instruments.

For electric guitar collectors and investors of the usual suspects – Les Paul, Stratocaster, Telecaster and ES-335 models made from 1951 to 1965 – fortune’s gaze has proved profitable to them, as values have increased greatly. Some models have gained 1000% in ten years, eclipsing many other investments. At the same time, many of the standard early 1970s versions of the usual suspects have gained in excess of 300%, somewhat due to the tracking of values of the earlier guitars and somewhat due to affordable nostalgia.

This market’s narrow vision has not graced other rare guitars from the same period. Specifically, Gretsch and Rickenbacker electric models from their best periods have seriously lagged behind the strong demand exhibited for key Gibson and Fender models. Even more perplexing is that it seems many of the best vintage Gretsch and Rickenbacker electric models were produced in lower quantities than premium Gibson and Fender guitars in the same period. In addition, some of the most iconic guitarists and songwriters in the history of rock and roll used these wonderful Gretsch and Rickenbacker electric models. The Byrds, Chet Atkins, Steven Stills, Pete Townshend, Tom Petty, Brian Setzer and that obscure band out of the UK called the Beatles (George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney) all played these unique four, six and twelve-strings.

Values of vintage guitars are dictated mainly by supply and demand. Rockstar sponsorship usually helps create demand and low production numbers ensure a general lack of availability. Supply figures for vintage Rick guitars, if the Rickenbacker book (by Richard Smith) production totals are accurate, highlights the rarity of these electrics. Old key Ricks seem to be more rare than important vintage Gibson and Fender models but much less desirable.

Ultimately, the market is always right regardless of anyone’s opinion. Seemingly, the finest vintage Gretsch and Rickenbacker models are under-appreciated, considering all the great players that produced volumes of classic music on those same instruments. A fairly common 1965 CBS-produced Stratocaster sells for more than a 1956 Chet Atkins 6120. Also, even though about 9,000 double-cut Les Paul Junior guitars were produced, they sell for more than many rare vintage Rickenbacker models. Finally, take note that early 1970s Les Paul Deluxe, Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars gained as much or more than most old Gretsch and Rickenbacker electric models over the last ten years.

Golden-era Gibson and Fender vintage electric guitars have outpaced the value gains for most production electrics from other manufacturers’ key periods. High prices that are increasing at a great rate gain momentum as possible sellers may delay a sale – fearing a loss of future gains – and speculators enter the market with profit motives. If Gretsch and Rickenbacker golden-era electrics gain in popularity, I would expect prices to climb quickly, due to relatively low unit production. Although tepid gains were recorded during the last ten years, a significant catalyst might generate enough interest in these special guitars to put them in the highly desired, highly prized category. Until then, long live the Cyclops.

Answers: 1956 Gretsch 6120 = 100%, 1973 Stratocaster (sunburst) = 300%, 1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom= 1000%, 1997 U.S. Dollar (inflation) = 30%, 1967 Rickenbacker 375 = 200%, 1952 Telecaster = 600%, 1973 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe = 250%)



Larry Meiners
Larry Meiners writes this column for Premier Guitar and is the author of the Gibson Flying “V” and Gibson Shipment Totals books as well as the audio CD book for instrument collectors, Live! At The Guitar Show.

For more information please visit: www.flyingvintage.com
Email Larry at: flyingvintage@aol.com
Flying Vintage and The Serious Guitar Collector are trade names of Larry Meiners. All content herein may not be reproduced or copied whatsoever without written permission of Larry Meiners. Copyright ©2007 Larry Meiners

Phase 4 (2004-present) The most powerful price appreciation the vintage electric guitar market has seen during the last 20 years is occurring during Phase 4 (2004-present). Some rates of


Phase 4 (2004-present)
The most powerful price appreciation the vintage electric guitar market has seen during the last 20 years is occurring during Phase 4 (2004-present). Some rates of appreciation have doubled those seen in the last cycle for the best models in excellent, original condition. With prices ranging from $20,000 to $500,000 for the best golden-era electric guitars, wealthy individuals have become the primary buying group in the market. Since most of the world’s wealth is held by relatively few people, a small amount of investment funds funneled into old guitars can raise prices significantly. Relatively few excellent examples of key models exist, and a small number seem to be available in the market at any given time. Strong demand coupled with a relatively small and fixed supply of instruments has driven values into a price range that only buyers with large sums of discretionary funds can participate in.

Certainly, external financial factors have exerted influence upon the vintage guitar market. Extremely inexpensive money and credit existed for the last half-dozen years along with a wide availability of credit. With the low cost of funds, some investors looking for higher yields found smart investments in the classic vintage guitar market, based on historical returns. In this environment, many dealers simply pay more if they “must” to acquire a fine piece and ask “more” than they paid. As long as the market players pay higher prices, like Steven Tyler from Aerosmith once sang, “train kept-a-rolling,” and it has been the operative theme since.

So, unlike stocks, the collectible guitar market seems to act differently with fewer “corrections” or “bear” periods. The guitar market tasted a bit of “loss” with Stratmania in the late 1980s. Recently, it seems Les Paul Juniors and sunburst Stratocasters (mid-to-late 1960s) have moderated in price. The market may have played a bit of Stratmania II over the last twelve months. These models experienced very high price increases during the last three years, due to their fairly low entry price that easily moved into the five-figure range for the best early models. Subsequently, due to the relatively high number of units made (versus golden-era classics like Les Paul Standards and slab-board Strats), many owners brought them to market to capture what they viewed as high prices.

The Internet and new entrants to the market are a few important factors in this market’s evolution. The Internet, including eBay, made market pricing more visible over the globe. New buyers have entered the market during this phase, with speculation as a primary motive. Also, five-to-six figure prices for fine guitars limit many aspiring vintage guitar dealers’ market opportunities while creating business for those positioned to capitalize on these conditions.

Some international collectors and dealers became reluctant sellers as demand in the USA has been the strongest region so far during this phase. Vintage guitars which left these shores years ago were repatriated. The Japanese were the strongest international buyers in the 1980s and 1990s – however, on average they began to buy lower-priced models and sell some classic instruments bought years earlier.

Another result born of higher prices is the forgiving attitude of some buyers toward refinished, repaired and changed parts guitars. More than a few guitars exist with parts, necks and finishes that weren’t part of the instrument when it was produced – some instruments were described as 100% original.

No one has a crystal ball to predict the future prices of vintage guitars. This column has discussed the markets, babyboomers and some of the elements that drive the market numerous times. What happens tomorrow or next decade is anybody’s guess. Many years have passed since the last deep recession and old guitars were much less expensive. How this market will react during the next recession is unknown. Since high net-worth individuals are the prime buyers of classic guitars today, it is possible that buying power may not erode significantly. Maybe original owners that are not wealthy will sell their guitars, but my guess is that there are relatively few original owners of golden-era electric guitars left. Many purchases in the future will come from collections.

Markets being markets, they are mostly ruled by supply and demand. Therefore, one must assume the possibility exists that there are other directions for prices besides “up” in the future.





Larry Meiners
Larry Meiners writes this column for Premier Guitar and is the author of the Gibson Flying “V” and Gibson Shipment Totals books as well as the audio CD book for instrument collectors, Live! At The Guitar Show.

For more information please visit: www.flyingvintage.com
Email Larry at: flyingvintage@aol.com
Flying Vintage and The Serious Guitar Collector are trade names of Larry Meiners. All content herein may not be reproduced or copied whatsoever without written permission of Larry Meiners. Copyright ©2007 Larry Meiners

Some folks think Reading is a railroad property from Monopoly. It’s also a town in East-Central Pennsylvania that hosted the recent Philly Guitar Show. The Philly Show moved from





Some folks think Reading is a railroad property from Monopoly. It’s also a town in East-Central Pennsylvania that hosted the recent Philly Guitar Show. The Philly Show moved from Ft. Washington due to the loss of their venue, and was held at the Greater Reading Expo Center. The Expo Center is a massive collection of buildings that was the former home of Lucent’s high-tech microelectronics plant. Many professional jobs left the area with the closing of the facility in 2003. It is a bit ironic that three years later the building that once produced electronic components now housed a guitar show with many instruments on display worth more than a year’s salary of the average worker at the factory.

Gary and Bonnie did a great job putting this show together, considering the loss of their previous venue so close to the show date. Saturday morning at the open saw a line at the door that lasted two hours. Attendance and guitars walking in any show are the measure of success used by dealers and this was a good show. The outlet shopping and hotels were a pleasant bonus compared to the Ft.Washington area. Friendly greyhounds were present for a third time and a six-string salute to all the generous dealers and patrons that donated to help find homes for these retired athletes.

New patrons attending brought some uncirculated vintage guitars, like the elderly couple that walked in Sunday afternoon with a pre-war Martin “Bone” (aka D-28 Herringbone). The couple was besieged with offers from many dealers and said they were taking the guitar home to weigh their options. Nice original-owner Martin Bones are hard to find, so one walking into the Philly Show was certainly a highlight; other sought-after guitars walked into the show too.

No one should complain about the availability of nice vintage pieces for sale on booths at the show; asking prices is another matter altogether. Several Bursts, blackguard Teles, custom-color Fender guitars, several LP Jr. and Special models as well as plenty of store-stock ($2000 and under guitars and basses) were available for sale.

Taking a quick look back at the vintage guitar market in 2006 as covered in this column, many interesting issues were highlighted:

February - My “Wood Street” column showed a table of the USA stock market indices that went nowhere in 2005 while premier vintage guitars increased at a greater rate than the historical trend. Some models doubled or more and other popular models showed aggressive appreciation rates.

March - The vintage market is approaching a crossroads, I believe. The stakes are too high to make a buying or selling mistake, and many under-capitalized players have become irrelevant. Verification and selling metrics will change if old guitars join the ranks of fine art and other high-end collectibles.

May - People often say that if something was valuable it was, “worth its weight in gold.” Well, those folks don’t own any Bursts, pre-war D-45 or mint first year Stratocaster guitars. A bit of simple math shows us that these iconic guitars are worth more than their weight in gold with some examples worth more than their weight in platinum.

August - There may come a day when the best vintage instruments are sold by a handful of dealers and auction houses, effectively shutting the door on many of today’s dealers and brokers.

Random thoughts that closed out the year of columns: I think two PAF L-5 and Super- 400 models are undervalued along with ES-175 and other multiple PAF-equipped archtop guitars from 1957-1962 (not including the high-priced ES-335/345/355). Blackguard Telecasters rose in price this year, partly due, I think, to Nacho Baños fine book about this model, distributed by JK Lutherie.

Following expensive older models, 1970s Teles and Strats sold well with higher prices. Prices on pre-CBS Sunburst Stratocasters have risen so much in a short period of time that many nice examples have come to the market. Dave Crocker of the Arlington Guitar Show stated that VIP attendance was up 50% from last year and that says to me more investors and speculators are looking to this market for a place to invest some of their available funds.

It was an interesting year in 2006 and something tells me the fun is just beginning. Next month’s column is my annual Wall Street vs. Wood Street edition. I’ll summarize the equity markets performance versus important Tier-1 vintage guitar models.


Larry Meiners writes the Serious Guitar Collector Column for Musicians Hotline® Magazine. Larry is the author of the Gibson Flying "V" and Gibson Shipment Totals books as well as the audio CD book for collectors, Live! At The Guitar Show.

Larry''s books are available at (as well as other fine musical instrument and book retailers): Amazon.com, www.amazon.com, Blue Book Publications,
1-800-877-4867, www.bluebookinc.com, Elderly Instruments,
1-888-473-5810, www.elderly.com JK Lutherie,
1-800-344-8880, www.jklutherie.com, Music Time (Charles Dumont),
1-800-932-0824, www.musictime.com
For more information or to email Larry, please visit - www.flyingvintage.com
email: flyingvintage@aol.com
Copyright (c) 2004 Larry Meiners All Rights Reserved

Every October Texas should name Arlington into Guitarlington.


Every October Texas should rename this city Guitarlington. Arlington’s twenty-first year in the same location, this year’s event was bigger and better in the grand tradition of the Lone Star State. Our cowboy hats are off to Dave Crocker and his crew for hosting an excellent show deep in the heart of Texas (and the mild temps were nice too).

Dave informed me his attendance was up 8% at the door and he had the largest exhibitor group ever in the history of the show; a pretty darn good performance for a “slowing economy,” according to the media talking heads. Also a sign of the guitar times, Mr. Crocker stated that VIP attendance was up 50% from last year. It seems players, investors and speculators are looking to this red-hot market for collectible guitars as a place to invest.The show’s impressive metrics are a credit to Dave’s experience and his willingness to commit a lot of cash to advertising and promotion.

The song remains the same for vintage buyers, as the usual suspects – Les Pauls, Teles, 335s, Firebirds and custom color guitars – captured most of the attention. The notable exception this year was pre-CBS Sunburst Stratocasters. Their prices have risen so fast in a short amount of time that at these levels, many nice examples were displayed by a number of dealers.

When a certain model’s price rises quickly in the market, the typical response is for many owners to test the market with their pieces. There were more maple-neck Strats in the showroom this year than at anytime during this new millennium. Fender produced a bunch of sunburst Strats during the key golden-era years, and many are on the market looking for even higher prices. Quite a few Les Paul Specials in Gibson’s famous TV finish were available too; more Specials were on hand than their pickupchallenged catalog-mate, the Les Paul Junior. They have historically been a tougher sell than Jr. LP guitars, even though they made 50% fewer Specials.

Blackguard Telecasters were in short supply this year. Nacho Baños fine book about this model has created demand for these rare guitars and their price has risen rapidly during the past twelve months. Gibson F-4 mandolin pricing was higher at the show than recent national sales would have indicated. Most 1970s Teles and Strats were selling well; high prices for these guitars seems to be partly due to their “true-vintage” cousins being many multiples in price above their tags. It’s the same story with 1970s Les Pauls, although my opinion is that new Gibson Les Pauls are better than the 1970s models.

I didn’t see as many ES-335 guitars from the important ‘58-‘64 period compared to past fall shows. Player and better condition pre-war Martin Dreadnought guitars were very popular instruments. It seems the price differential between excellent and player grade Martin guitars is less than with 1950-‘60s Strats of the same condition; age, quantity and clientele account for the value variance. Key 1950s Les Pauls were highly sought after. Dave Rogers of Dave’s Guitars from Wisconsin brought a three-pickup LP Custom that went to a collector on Saturday. This LP Custom was a fine-looking example with an original black pebble-grain case with yellow lining.

National guitars, Fender amps, Marshall amps and just plain used guitars were popular items, but not all instruments were as trendy. Many model types are cruising along at the speed-of-inflation. Bringing up the rear in terms of “customer buy lists” were many Gretsch guitars (except 6120 and DuoJets) and many acoustic/electric archtop models. The archtop market has been unexciting for several years, although I think the two PAF L-5 and Super-400 models are undervalued along with the ES- 175 and other multiple PAF-equipped archtop guitars from 1957-1962 (not including the high-priced ES-335/345/355).

Finally, I overheard several experienced dealers talking about a market “correction,” as prices have increased a lot last year and this year. No one knows for sure as this type of talk is pure speculation. However, one thing is certain: many new market players have entered the guitar buying game in the last four years. Some play guitar, some don’t. They seem to share one objective: investment and speculation in a hot commodity. As condominiums in Florida and the NASDAQ has shown, freewheeling cash chases performance. If the market cools from its torrid pace for the best models, I wonder how many folks will leave the guitar world behind and jump on the next high-velocity bandwagon.


Larry Meiners writes the Serious Guitar Collector Column for Musicians Hotline® Magazine. Larry is the author of the Gibson Flying "V" and Gibson Shipment Totals books as well as the audio CD book for collectors, Live! At The Guitar Show.

Larry''s books are available at (as well as other fine musical instrument and book retailers): Amazon.com, www.amazon.com, Blue Book Publications,
1-800-877-4867, www.bluebookinc.com, Elderly Instruments,
1-888-473-5810, www.elderly.com JK Lutherie,
1-800-344-8880, www.jklutherie.com, Music Time (Charles Dumont),
1-800-932-0824, www.musictime.com
For more information or to email Larry, please visit - www.flyingvintage.com
email: flyingvintage@aol.com
Copyright (c) 2004 Larry Meiners All Rights Reserved

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